Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Secondhand “Black Motherfucker” Comment, Among Others, Insufficient

In Lawrence v. Chemprene, Inc. et al, 18-CV-2537, 2019 WL 5449844 (SDNY Oct. 24, 2019), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim. While plaintiff’s allegations were, in the court’s words, “revolting” – including use of the words “black motherfucker” and “stupid nigger” – they were insufficiently demonstrative of a hostile work environment.

The court began by summarizing the well-known legal elements of a hostile work environment claim:

To establish a hostile work environment claim … a plaintiff must produce enough evidence to show that the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. … In considering whether a plaintiff has met this burden, courts should examine the totality of the circumstances, including: the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with the victim’s job performance. … The test is both objective and subjective: the misconduct shown must be severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment, and the victim must also subjectively perceive that environment to be abusive. … Of course, it is axiomatic that mistreatment at work, whether through subjection to a hostile environment or through other means, is actionable under Title VII only when it occurs because of an employee’s protected characteristic, such as race or national origin.

As to the “black motherfucker” comment, the court noted that plaintiff did not hear this statement directly, but rather that he learned if from a co-worker. It explained that “[w]hile secondhand statements should not be ignored, such statements are not as impactful on one’s environment as are direct statements; consequently, they are less persuasive in stating a hostile work environment claim.” Further undercutting plaintiff’s reliance on this derogatory statement was defendants’ “swift remedial action” in response to it.

Next, the court held that the “stupid nigger” comment was likewise made outside plaintiff’s presence, and must be disregarded because it contradicted plaintiff’s deposition testimony.

The court also discounted plaintiff’s allegation regarding the writing of the “N word” on an assignment sheet, noting that there was “nothing in the record to suggest that the note was directed at Plaintiff.”

Share This:
(212) 227-2100